Imagine a design scene where collaboration outweighs competition. In the Portuguese city of Porto, this isn’t just some utopian fantasy, it’s common practice. Graphic designer João Castro explains that local design commissions inspire mutual participation among its creative workforce because of Porto’s unique position as a small yet globalized city.
“Six or seven years ago,” he says, “even established studios in Porto were really struggling to find local work. They had to look beyond Portugal, designing mostly for international clients.” When an increase in tourism began to revitalize Porto and more design opportunities became available from the city’s cultural institutions, the local network of creatives began sharing those commissions, essentially functioning as a citywide design collective.
That collaborative spirit is found not only in the city, but in Castro’s personal design practice as well. After graduating from Portugal’s ESAD College of Art and Design, he established the Royal Studio in 2011 as a one-man operation with the intention of working in tandem with other freelancers in Porto and abroad. Today, the Royal Studio fluctuates in size between Castro taking on solo projects to working with 20+ collaborators at a time. “We like the idea of being a product of a globalized world,” Castro says of his flexible studio structure, “where we get to work with other designers and clients from Europe to America to Asia, and the Middle East.”
Castro’s color-saturated, maximalist style has attracted a wide range of commissions. Whether he’s producing clean vector graphics for corporate big guns like Adobe and Facebook, or devising the “most violent digital teaser experience” for hardcore punk band BlackHandPath, (a client that will apparently “fight anyone for $20”), he is at home in both commercial and experimental design spheres.
The Royal’s recent branding for the Lovie Awards is a good example of this. The event’s design system communicated the client’s message in a way that is straightforward and accessible, yet remained highly conceptual.
According to the website, the Lovies are considered “the European sister to the international Webby Awards [and] is the only pan-European award recognizing online excellence in seven native languages from over 30 European countries.” The 2016 award ceremony was held in London, just a few months after the vote for Brexit initiated the process for the UK to withdraw from the European Union.
Castro says, “We designed the Lovies’ branding based on the concept ‘United in Code’ after the EU’s motto, ‘United in Diversity.’ We see the web as a network where ideas thrive and borders are irrelevant. The Lovies celebrate that by honoring what is groundbreaking in web platforms, embracing the realities of relational structures, evolving technology, thought-provoking social behaviors, ongoing technological advances, social awareness, and political movements, while still loving GIFs and cats.”
An early version of the branding for the Lovies used the programming language Processing to generate forms based on data from international migration statistics that show the movement of people immigrating to and seeking asylum in Europe. Though the final visual system shifted away from the Processing patterns they initially created, “the backbone of the whole project remained the same. Our objective was to try and achieve a deep understanding of how we connect with each other,” Castro says.
Whether it’s large-scale campaigns like the Lovies or self-initiated projects, the theme that runs through Castro’s work is finding commonalities in a divided world through design and technology. When he’s not designing or teaching at his alma mater, he’s developing a podcast that will feature conversations between various local design studios with help from The Royal’s designer-in-residence/intern.
“We didn’t want the podcast to just be about us and our work. We wanted to create a platform for the studios around us to talk about their roles as designers or as authors and those spaces in between. I feel like through conversations we are constantly learning from each other, and I love that something as simple as a podcast can take that dialogue out of the studio and share it with the world.”